HC Deb 23 July 1981 vol 9 cc478-9
2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the threat of imported French milk to the United Kingdom dairy industry.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Peter Walker)

As our public health regulations prevent the sale of any imported pre-packed milk in this country, there is at present no threat to our dairy industry from imports of French milk.

Mr. Hamilton

How much French milk is currently getting in and appearing in our markets? What proportion does it represent of total sales? Is that proportion increasing? Can the Minister give a categorical assurance that in no circumstances will our dairy industry be allowed to be threatened by unrestricted imports?

Mr. Walker

I repeat my answer that, as our public health regulations prevent the sale of any imported prepackaged milk in this country, there is no threat. That milk is banned. If the hon. Gentleman has details of any milk that has come in and has evaded the regulations, I should be pleased to know of them and to make immediate investigations.

As to the future, I think that the quality and efficiency of British milk production are such that there is no fear about the interests of the dairy industry in relation to imports.

Mr. Peter Mills

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is no need for British schoolchildren to drink French milk? There are totally adequate supplies to meet that need. Will the Minister tell us roughly what finance we could obtain from the Community to support the cost of our school milk?

Mr. Walker

Milk for schools is produced by our industry. Later this afternoon I shall announce details of the agreement on school milk. It will mean that the amount of milk available to schools in a full year will be doubled or trebled. It will be the greatest quantity of milk available to schools for the last 10 years. If there is a good response, it could mean an extra £20 million available to this country from Community funds.

Mr. Mason

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, during his chairmanship of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in the next six months, the Commission will be considering a request from the French to make a reference to the European Court so that they can invade our market with UHT milk? If, therefore, there is a decision by the European Court in favour of the French, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to defy that ruling?

Mr. Walker

It is extraordinary to ask a Minister to say, prior to a court decision, whether he will defy the law if that decision goes against him. We believe that our case with the European Court is justified and that we shall win it.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Further to the matter raised by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), is it not the case that if the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) had not sold the pass by agreeing to the import of UHT cream, the matter would have been substantially simpler now?

Mr. Walker

If I had to list all the difficulties that we have had as a result of past experiences and negotiations with the European Community, it would take a great deal of the time of the House.

Mr. Torney

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a real fear in our dairy industry, particularly on the distributive side, that we shall lose the case at the European Court and that therefore French milk will come in? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, further, of the tremendous feeling among consumers that our doorstep deliveries should be maintained? Therefore, whether we lose the case at the European Court or not, will the right hon. Gentleman consider standing up to the French and keeping out their milk?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman's comments show a remarkably defensive attitude which implies that the French can produce better milk at a better price than our dairy industry. I do not accept that for one moment. Anyone who has known the horror of drinking milk in France knows that it is untrue.